The H.L. Hunley made history back in 1864 when it became the first submarine to successfully attack an enemy ship. Launched by the Confederacy as a way to break the Union blockade of Southern ports during the Civil War, it sank the USS Housatonic on 17 February 1864 and itself mysteriously sank shortly thereafter.
Crew members hand cranked the propeller to make the sub move forward and its one weapon was a bomb set at the end of a long pole. The idea was to ram a ship with the bomb, which would then explode and leave a hole below the waterline. That’s what happened when the H.L. Hunley attacked one of the warships blockading Charleston harbor, but the sub never returned from its mission.
The Hunley was later found and brought to the surface. Now after several years of restoration the Confederate submarine has been placed upright for the first time since its sinking. The sub had been found resting at a 45 degree angle in a layer of silt and was kept in the same position until now. Moving it to the upright position has given researchers a look at a side of the ship unseen since 1864.
The researchers have found some holes on that side but are unsure if they are natural erosion or the cause of the Hunley’s sinking. Analysis of the bones of the eight crew members showed they died of a lack of oxygen. Interestingly, they were all at their posts as if nothing was going wrong.
You can visit the lab where this historic sub is being studied. The Warren Lasch Conservation Center is located in North Charleston, SC. You can also see a different Confederate submarine at the Louisiana State Museum in Baton Rouge.
[Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons]
Photographer Scott Haefner fantasized for years about visiting the ‘Ghost Ships‘ of California’s Suisun Bay, a fleet of mothballed merchant ships waiting to be scrapped. But it wasn’t until recently that he and a few close friends built up the nerve to visit these abandoned wonders in person, evading round-the-clock security and ocean currents in the process. The photos he brought back of these magnificent decaying ships are just as amazing as the story of how he was able to take them to begin with.
The story of these amazing Ghost Ships starts with a government program called the Naval Defense Reserve Fleet. These mothballed merchant vessels were set aside by the government to be activated in case of emergency. At its peak in 1950, over 2,000 vessels were scattered around the coasts of the United States, included several hundred in Suisun Bay, about 30 miles north of San Francisco. Today, they sit abandoned, leaking toxic paint and heavy metals into the surrounding waters.
Working with several friends, Scott spent over two years secretly visiting the ships to meticulously photograph their interiors. Using a small inflatable raft, the crew would silently motor out the ships under cover of dark, running a test scouting mission before eventually spending whole weekends wandering and photographing the ships’ eerie rusting interiors. Even though the explorers were under constant threat of discovery (and likely arrest), they never got caught (other than one close call). You can read Scott’s full account of the experience and see more photos over at his website.
Want to explore more amazing abandoned places? Check out these Gadling galleries of 25 haunting shipwrecks and the 10 creepiest abandoned cities. The full ghost ship gallery is below.
While Navy SEALs normally work in the shadows, they came into the international limelight on May 2 when they killed Osama bin Laden.
Now the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum has seen its daily attendance triple. The museum in Fort Pierce, Florida, documents the history of the SEALs from their humble beginnings in 1943 as the Naval Combat Demolition Teams and Underwater Demolition Teams to the cutting-edge special ops force it is today.
Yet what will surely go down in history as one of the SEAL’s greatest hits isn’t covered by the museum yet. It’s too recent. That will soon change if the museum raises $1.5 million to set up permanent exhibits in its new wing.
On memorial Day about 2,000 people attended services at the museum, and the SEAL team that killed bin Laden got special attention.
“The signal was sent that you cannot attack the U.S. and murder innocent women and children with impunity, that we will find you and get you and win this war,” said Admiral Thomas L. Brown II.
[Photo of SEALs in Afghanistan courtesy U.S. Navy]
Fifty years ago today Alan B. Shepard Jr., became the first American in space when he flew in the Freedom 7 mission. He got 116.5 miles up and his flight lasted 15 minutes, 28 seconds. He made history, but has been generally forgotten.
Why? Because he was the second man in space. Yuri Gagarin made it into space 23 days earlier and won the second round of the US-Soviet space race. The Soviets won the first round too, when they got the first satellite into orbit in 1957.
Neither man achieved full orbit, but they did prove you could survive the trip and they paved the way for future space missions. Both deserve to be remembered.
NASA has an excellent interactive webpage about the mission and the capsule he flew in is on display at the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Shepard was an alum (Class of 1945) so needless to say they’re pretty proud of him over there.
Shepard later landed on the Moon in the Apollo 14 mission and drew laughs and criticism when he played golf in low gravity. You can see the Apollo 14 command module at the John F. Kennedy Space Center.
[Photo courtesy NASA]
Claude Choules, the last known combat veteran of WWI, has died aged 110. Born in England in 1901, he was too young to enlist in the army when the war broke out in 1914, so he waited until he was 15 and enlisted in the Royal Navy, where he saw service throughout the war.
Unlike most veterans, he liked the service and stayed on. While working as a visiting instructor for the Australian Navy, he fell in love with the country and moved there. When war broke out again he fought for his new country in its navy. He retired after 40 years in service but never stopped being active. At the tender age of 80 he took up writing and penned his memoirs. Over time he became a pacifist and controversially refused to participate in ANZAC Day parades. There’s much more to his story, so check out the link and his memoirs, assuming the book isn’t sold out by now.
Choules fought on the sea, so with no battlefields to visit, where can you see the legacy of WWI’s last combat veteran? A good start would be the museums of the two navies in which he served. The Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth, UK, currently has an exhibition called Sea Your History: 20th Century Royal Navy that shows what life was like aboard naval vessels during the two world wars and beyond. This gives a good insight into what a teenaged Claude Choules had to endure. The Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre at Garden Island Naval Base near Sydney also has displays about life in the navy. I wouldn’t be surprised if both museums make special exhibitions to mark the passing of this remarkable man.
But you don’t have to go to the UK or Australia to see Choules’ legacy. He lived through the most momentous event of the early 20th century. The war changed Europe and the world. The millions of deaths seriously weakened Europe’s hold on their colonies and emboldened independence movements in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The old aristocracy found itself hit hard financially and began to lose their grip on society. Large numbers of women got to work in factories and other “man’s jobs” for the first time, and began to question why they couldn’t vote.
While the First World War wasn’t the sole factor in the end of colonialism or the rise of women’s rights, it was a major one. If you want to see Claude Choules’ legacy, just look around you.
[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]